By Garen Kazanc
Ever since the cradle, many Armenians grew up with the notion that we’re a mighty race that can never be beat and whose warriors were top of the line. Legendary stories of outnumbered Armenian freedom fighters defeating scores and scores of Turkish soldiers were told to us repeatedly. We held these truths to be self-evident and never refrained from evoking these narratives during the recent war. But a major reality check happened on November 9 when a piece of paper was signed and the world these Armenians imagined in their heads suddenly came crashing down.
Indeed, we were all shocked. Even if you suspected the outcome of this war beforehand, the shock still reverberated powerfully. We were alarmed by the new arrangement of affairs: The Russian tanks suddenly rolling into Artsakh. The Artsakh Armenians abruptly leaving their homes. No one was able to keep up with the drastic turn of events. But there was a particular kind of shock that was also apparent among many, one that stemmed from utter disbelief. A disbelief that negates an adherence to a certain type of belief, or rather belief system, which many Armenians trusted and held dear throughout their lives. Not only were there lies told by the army and politicians, but this inherently meant all the most important figures throughout their lives, including friends, teachers, and family, who told them stories of this mighty race, had lied to them as well. But this was still far removed from the most critical lie of all: the one they told themselves. This was the real crisis at hand.
This is why the peace agreement was so catastrophic for these types of Armenians. Reality hit them hard when they realized that they were not only told these lies, but told themselves these lies and believed them, no questions asked. Even with the war’s end, they’re still looking for excuses that console and make themselves feel better (i.e. “we should’ve sent all our reserves!”, “we should’ve continued fighting!”, “not one inch!”). But in reality, this would have cost more young lives, the loss of more land, and an even more tumultuous future for the country and its people. In other words, the nationalist would become the nation’s worst enemy.
Nationalism in some ways is like Disneyland. It’s a happy place that is filled with myths and legends that make us feel good. But this place does not exist in real life. It’s a figment of our imagination and the more we invest our time in wandering this illusory state of mind, the more we are detached from the very nation we claim to protect. Yet, unlike Disneyland’s costly admission, nationalism is free. We are free to push nationalist dogmas and live with that imaginary world in our minds. But this is rather effortless and it’s the least you can do for your nation, whereas realism is hard and takes more time and energy, but is ultimately more fruitful and rewarding.
When it comes to Armenians, I have realized that those who boast about Armenia the most are actually the most harmful for Armenia. We have all seen the flags on the cars, keyboard warriors, Armenia flag emojis, and the sharing of Nzhdeh quotes. Yet, despite all its shiny paraphernalia and calls for the enlightenment of one’s identity, nationalism is blinding. You are blinded to a certain reality on the ground because you created some makeshift one in your head. During the war, this manifested itself in the “haxtelu enq!” or “next stop Baku” narratives which led many Armenians to this kind of unwarranted self-confidence.